Earlier this month, I wrote about a disturbing new attempt by the IRS to target and monitor churches.
Now Members of Congress are demanding answers from the IRS about their apparent collusion with an angry atheist group to target the Church.
The issue arose when the angry atheist group Freedom From Religion Foundation sued the IRS, demanding that it investigate churches and pastors and monitor their sermons.
The IRS quickly folded, settling the case and agreeing to target and monitor churches.
A congressional letter to the IRS, led by Representative Scott Garrett (NJ-5), notes the secretive and questionable manner in which the IRS handled this litigation.
The IRS refuses to release the details of the settlement, including how it will target and monitor churches.
In addition, the letter questions the circumstances surrounding the secretive settlement:
What is even more concerning, given the IRS’ recent history of politically motivated investigations, is the Service’s Orwellian sounding “Political Activities Referral Committee.” The revelation that this IRS committee is currently investigating statements made by various religious leaders is in direct conflict with the 2009 case holding that the IRS’ s procedures for investigating religious leaders were unlawful. See United States v. Living Word Christian Ctr., 2009 U.S. Dist LEXIS 6902 (D. Minn., Jan. 30, 2009). There is no indication that the IRS has come up with different, more lawful procedures since the old procedures were thrown out in 2009.
Moreover, we are deeply concerned about the positioning the IRS took in this litigation. The IRS won a dismissal against the same plaintiffs, in the same court, with the same claim and with nearly identical briefs based on the plaintiff’s clear lack of standing. Given the Administration’s narrow definition of standing in other, more highly publicized matters, it is peculiar to learn that the IRS collusively decided to agree to a dismissal without prejudice in the second case with this plaintiff instead of with prejudice. Rather than taking the tried and true arguments that won them the first case, the IRS agreement allows the Freedom from Religion Foundation to bring this case again. Without knowing more, it is impossible to view this as anything other than an attempt by the IRS to escape the confines of the 2009 ruling.
The letter goes on to demand answers regarding the details of the settlement and the procedures the IRS is putting in place as part of its program to monitor sermons.
Clearly any agreement or settlement between an abusive IRS and angry atheists cannot trump the First Amendment rights of pastors and churches. As the letter notes, “Americans expect their religious leaders to be able to speak freely to their flock without government oversight.”
In fact, the American people not only expect it, the Constitution mandates it.
The federal government has no place in the pulpit. Churches and pastor must be free to speak and preach on the important moral and cultural issues of the day without fear of reprisal, especially that brought at the direction of atheists seeking to tear down the Church.
We are following this issue with keen interest. To put the IRS’s troubled past behind it and assure the American people that no such targeting can ever take place again in America, the IRS must come clean and provide all the details of its secretive settlement with the IRS.
The American people do not trust this IRS and for good reason. No American, especially pastors, deserves to be targeted for their beliefs and their speech.
Matthew Clark is Associate Counsel for Government Affairs and Media Advocacy with the ACLJ. A lifelong citizen of the Commonwealth of Virginia, he lives with his wife and three boys in Northern Virginia. Follow Matthew Clark: @_MatthewClark.